Just back from the Virtual Worlds Conference in New York City. Virtual worlds are described as the 3D Web and include such well-known platforms as Second Life, Whyville and There. I attended with our graphic designer/webmaster, Julia Deligatti, and two members of Maryland CPA firm KAWG&F — Arlene Ciroula and Byron Patrick.

The conference was oversold with more than 600 attendees. What had my attention was who was in the audience. There were plenty of Fortune 500 companies, Silicon Valley technology types, Madison Avenue marketing and media people, and even CPAs. I definitely had the sense that I was sitting in the middle of something big at its very beginnings.

The Big Idea for me was when the opening panel, “Trends and Numbers: Where’s It All Going,” Dsc02273 talked about existing businesses using virtual worlds to create and manage high-performance work teams and reaping huge benefits. In addition, these teams are able to hold customer focus groups and, in some cases, co-create with their customers using the UGC (User-Generated Content) functionality in these virtual-world platforms. This panel was made up not just of virtual world evangelists, but also included mainstream business technology experts Steve Prentice (an analyst for Gartner Group) and Daniel Terdiman, a senior writer for CNET News. Their advice was that this is real, it will change media and “don’t sit this one out.”

Imagine a CPA firm or company using a virtual world for employee orientation and managing teams that rarely get a chance for a real face-to-face meeting. They could meet and participate virtually in one of these worlds and hang out in really cool places. What if they can meet with your customers and co-create with you? How will that reflect on your brand? What will be their impression of your firm or company? What about the new “net generation” who have grown up using these MMOGs (Massively Multi-player Online Games)?

Dsc02198_6 Second Life founder Philip Rosedale said it very well in his opening keynote: Fundamentally, this is about people and enabling them to communicate, create and collaborate. He went on to say, “The most important thing about virtual worlds and the biggest impact they will have is about people.” This must be why Business 2.0 magazine had Philip as one of the Top 50 Brightest Minds in Business.

For  associations, this is exciting because it is the very fabric of our existence. Now, before you think I have completely lost it, I believe this is an additive technology. Virtual worlds are just a another tool in our arsenal to connect with and engage our members. It complements our existing platforms — Web 1.0 Web sites and listservs; Web 2.0 blogs, podcasts and wikis; and now the 3D Web virtual worlds.

Attached are my notes from the conference: Download them here.

Tell me what you think: Do virtual worlds have a real place in our businesses and CPA firms?